MIAMI — Rob Gronkowski left the tight end position in good hands.
For years Gronkowski was the best tight end in the game. He made the biggest play of Super Bowl LIII last year, setting up a New England Patriots touchdown, and retired a couple months later.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the two best tight ends in the game are facing off in Super Bowl LIV. The San Francisco 49ers have George Kittle, the 2019 AP first-team All-Pro tight end, and the Kansas City Chiefs have Travis Kelce, who was All-Pro in 2016 and 2018.
“Just to see the two best tight ends right now in the league in the Super Bowl, it shows how special the tight end position is becoming and how these players are transcending the game,” Gronkowski said Tuesday.
They’re both remarkable players, and present major problems for defenses. A tight end has never won Super Bowl MVP, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Kittle or Kelce won it Sunday.
So who is better? Gronk knows.
Rob Gronkowski: George Kittle is the NFL’s best tight end
Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark made some minor waves on Monday night when he called Kittle the “second best” tight end in the NFL, clearly making his vote for his teammate Kelce.
Gronkowski had a different vote.
“If I had to pick one I’d go with Kittle, for sure,” Gronkowski said Tuesday. “Because he reminds me of myself a little bit, the way he plays the game.
“He has that personality and the way his work ethic is, and he reminds me of myself and the way he doesn’t want to go down. You could tell from the fourth-and-2 when he played the Saints, you could tell he didn’t want to go down, he wanted to score ... that reminds me of myself. Every time you get the ball, just have everyone on the defense try to take you down.”
Pro Football Focus agrees, at least for this year. PFF had Kittle as the No. 1 ranked tight end, with Kelce fourth (Mark Andrews of the Ravens and Tyler Higbee of the Rams ranked second and third). Kittle has a 1,000-yard season in two of his three NFL seasons. Kelce has posted 1,000 yards four straight seasons. Kittle’s blocking, which is tremendous, gives him a bump. He was ranked fourth among tight ends with 300 snaps in PFF’s run blocking grades, though Kelce was a respectable 10th. Kelce actually ranked better in PFF’s pass blocking grades, fourth among tight ends with Kittle 15th.
“To be honest, George is an unbelievable player, man,” Kelce said. “I love watching him play as much as anybody else. His tenacity and approach to the game is relentless. I love watching it. Even to be in the same boat as that guy, I’ll take that all day long.”
However you want to rank tight ends, Kittle and Kelce are likely first or second, though Zach Ertz of the Eagles is in the conversation and Andrews had a very good season. The fact that Kelce and Kittle are both still playing indicates that the value of a great tight end has never been higher.
“I think the tight end position is the best position in football,” Kittle said. “I’m a little biased.”
Both Super Bowl tight ends are elite
Gronkowski said he would pick Kittle, but he still appreciates Kelce.
“He can play all over the field,” Gronkowski said about Kelce. “You have to put a DB on him. You can’t put a linebacker on him, he’ll run right by him.”
Kelce and Kittle are remarkably similar. Both play the game with remarkable passion. They have loose, fun personalities that have made each a hit at Super Bowl week.
On the field they’re similar too. Both have the ability to move around the formation, causing matchup problems. They’re the rare big-play threat at tight end. The end of last season sums it up well: Kelce broke Gronkowski’s single-season receiving yards record for a tight end in Week 17, and then Kittle broke Kelce’s record less than an hour later.
When Kittle described Kelce, he could have been talking about himself. There’s a tremendous amount of respect between the two.
“My favorite thing about Travis, when we watch on our iPads there’s no sound, right? And you can feel the energy he has when he plays football,” Kittle said. “I feel like that’s something you don’t see from every single guy when they touch the field. You can feel his energy, you can feel his passion and the fun he has and the love he has for his teammates.”
It’s not easy to find a Kelce or Kittle. They’re rare players. But it’s easy to draw a correlation between having a great tight end and the success that comes from it. Ertz won a Super Bowl two years ago, Gronkowski won one last season and either Kittle or Kelce will get a run this year. Teams will always be on the lookout for their own elite tight end.
“The tight end position has evolved so much that it has been such an asset for offenses now,” Kittle said. “I think teams realize, we have to have a really good tight end for the offenses to be successful.”
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